Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
City of God: Chapter 4
Chapter 4.—That the Worshippers of the Gods Never Received from Them Any Healthy Moral Precepts, and that in Celebrating Their Worship All Sorts of Impurities Were Practiced.
First of all, we would ask why their gods took no steps to improve the morals of their worshippers. That the true God should neglect those who did not seek His help, that was but justice; but why did those gods, from whose worship ungrateful men are now complaining that they are prohibited, issue no laws which might have guided their devotees to a virtuous life? Surely it was but just, that such care as men showed to the worship p. 25 of the gods, the gods on their part should have to the conduct of men. But, it is replied, it is by his own will a man goes astray. Who denies it? But none the less was it incumbent on these gods, who were mens guardians, to publish in plain terms the laws of a good life, and not to conceal them from their worshippers. It was their part to send prophets to reach and convict such as broke these laws, and publicly to proclaim the punishments which await evil-doers, and the rewards which may be looked for by those that do well. Did ever the walls of any of their temples echo to any such warning voice? I myself, when I was a young man, used sometimes to go to the sacrilegious entertainments and spectacles; I saw the priests raving in religious excitement, and heard the choristers; I took pleasure in the shameful games which were celebrated in honor of gods and goddesses, of the virgin Cœlestis, 90 and Berecynthia, 91 the mother of all the gods. And on the holy day consecrated to her purification, there were sung before her couch productions so obscene and filthy for the ear—I do not say of the mother of the gods, but of the mother of any senator or honest man—nay, so impure, that not even the mother of the foul-mouthed players themselves could have formed one of the audience. For natural reverence for parents is a bond which the most abandoned cannot ignore. And, accordingly, the lewd actions and filthy words with which these players honored the mother of the gods, in presence of a vast assemblage and audience of both sexes, they could not for very shame have rehearsed at home in presence of their own mothers. And the crowds that were gathered from all quarters by curiosity, offended modesty must, I should suppose, have scattered in the confusion of shame. If these are sacred rites, what is sacrilege? If this is purification, what is pollution? This festivity was called the Tables, 92 as if a banquet were being given at which unclean devils might find suitable refreshment. For it is not difficult to see what kind of spirits they must be who are delighted with such obscenities, unless, indeed, a man be blinded by these evil spirits passing themselves off under the name of gods, and either disbelieves in their existence, or leads such a life as prompts him rather to propitiate and fear them than the true God.
Tertullian (Apol. c. 24) mentions Cœlestis as specially worshipped in Africa. Augustin mentions her again in the 26th chapter of this book, and in other parts of his works.25:91
Berecynthia is one of the many names of Rhea or Cybele. Livy (xxix. 11) relates that the image of Cybele was brought to Rome the day before the ides of April, which was accordingly dedicated as her feast-day. The image, it seems, had to be washed in the stream Almon, a tributary of the Tiber, before being placed in the temple of Victory; and each year, as the festival returned, the washing was repeated with much pomp at the same spot. Hence Lucans line (i. 600), Et lotam parvo revocant Almone Cybelen, and the elegant verses of Ovid. Fast. iv. 337 et seq.25:92
Fercula, dishes or courses.
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